Integrating artificial intelligence to enhance learning and university teaching


Let’s be clear from the start: we have a problem. For a number of academic years now, we have been noticing how university students are mostly lacking in skills that would facilitate their understanding, comprehension, studying and comparing with foundations when it comes to training in the various subjects and degrees.

The almost total non-existence of the note-taking process, the equally incapable development of a comprehensive reading, as well as the subsequent treatment from the verification of the information that arises after all this, is something that we encounter every day. Thus, university education faces an unavoidable challenge for which it is imperative to find solutions that address these deficiencies and promote more effective learning in the student, including the reinforcement of the role of the professor by improving their skills, as well as their retraining.

At the same time, the growing popularity of artificial intelligence since the end of 2022 adds another digital tool to the educational landscape. While it could be a valuable instrument to address this situation, and in the process improve these skills and abilities that are now presented as deficiencies by those who learn, it is essential to keep in mind that we are training people, not machines, who have a way of learning that changes generationally and also depending on their role, so here too we must find the right balance.

A reflective approach: photographing the educational moment

Around 1824, Niépce invented the first photographic process. Later, he joined forces with Daguerre to research and advance this tool. In 1977, the writer Susan Sontag published On Photography .

In her book, Sontag comprehensively analyses what photography reflects of society throughout time: from the association of ideas, beyond the invention of this procedure or the simple use of the camera tool. She does so from an analytical perspective. She tells us how a photographer, Bernice Abbot (1898-1991), left her homeland to train.

Upon his return, several years later, he “saw it with new eyes, knowing what his country was like.” Much like how Abbot gained a new perspective upon returning from abroad, the widespread use of AI tools allows us to view our teaching practices from a different perspective by abruptly taking us out of a familiar state and confronting us with something hitherto unimaginable. All without having to wait so many years.

Using what we have observed from this perspective helps us when it comes to dealing with the shortcomings that give rise to the beginning of this article from alternatives that seek solutions and abandon the concept of complaint.

Continuing education and educational ethics

The massive use of artificial intelligence in the university environment at user level presents challenges beyond its mere use. The social projection of this technology can limit its global vision from the teaching point of view due to its possible biases, limitations, myths and traps. The work of the teacher once again requires a balanced and critical approach. Artificial intelligence can help us identify shortcomings. From here, the professionalism of the trainer remains the basis for addressing and solving problems.

To do this, it is necessary to continue with the preparation and retraining that continuous training provides to the educator . This is something that we already do with other tools and strategies from the concept of learning what exists while opening ourselves to new perspectives and possibilities that are duly verified, even from disruption.

Continuous training is crucial for teachers, and not only in response to the Organic Law of the University System (LOSU) approved in 2023, as it ensures that educators remain up to date and prepared to encourage progress in students by improving their learning curves, thinking about their constructive, yet fluid, training with respect to their future role in society. Thanks to it, we also learn that when using AI tools, teachers must demand a careful balance between innovation and deontology, taking into account what the European Commission highlights about the importance of digital skills in education.

Integrating any technology, as is already the case with other instruments (digital or not) that we already use in the educational process, must be guided by a solid educational ethic and an understanding of how these tools can complement, rather than replace, human skills.

Demystifying artificial intelligence in education

As we explore the potential of artificial intelligence in higher education, it is essential to address the myths and pitfalls surrounding this technology. We need to do so because, as McKee points out , “the choice of medium also affects one’s sense of identity.” Knowing the chosen path well can achieve a successful impact from the teachers themselves by fostering a balance between the use of AI tools to support learning and research from feedback, while guiding their application to students avoiding unwanted biases.

We are aware that AI, in its current form, is based on algorithms. Its capabilities are not equivalent to those of human beings, since it cannot replace intuition, empathy, human analysis and constructive critical thinking, even though socially this is wrongly establishing a contrary belief supported by a whole series of social myths already seen in the relationship with other technologies and digital projection networks .

Plagiarism: an everlasting problem

Another trap that teachers face is prohibiting students from using it for fear that it may be used as a tool for plagiarism. This serious problem has always existed. In the face of it, we must continue to apply strategies that, as teachers, seek to make those who do it aware that copying is equal to losing for the person who does it.

Misconceptions are part of the social myths we live with. Just as being an expert in something does not guarantee being an expert teacher, even though this is still mistakenly believed, AI can provide help that complements our provision of personalized education, based or not on universal design for learning, without having to be the only tool we use.

If we used it exclusively, it would not be effective because, like many experts who have not yet retrained as teachers, we would lack the correct use of interpersonal skills, including didactic communication, effective educational strategies, impartiality and objectivity.

Merging technology and humanity in education

Artificial intelligence is indeed an opportunity that can help elevate education at the university level, as other tools and strategies used by teachers already do. The properties and limitations inherent to its technology constitute a contemporary reinforcement for the work of the instructor, who, even so, must continue to be updated continuously.

The fusion of tools from the humanity inherent to comprehensive education is a pillar when it comes to carrying out logistical tactics by teachers in order to overcome deficiencies such as those mentioned at the beginning of this article and which restrict adequate student training. Among them, to cite an example, is reading comprehension. Without this, learning is only memoristic, forgettable. The process that involves its realization escapes a total development from the use of AI tools, despite its capacity for analysis in other aspects.

AI cannot replace the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree instruction offered by human teachers, nor the development of diagrams and contrasting conclusions arising from the development of good reading comprehension under the same global concept by students. This example, as well as others, is a great opportunity for teachers and the improvement of learning processes. From a situation like this, we are allowed to observe from a different perspective, similar to that experienced by Abbot and his creative process through photography.

This panorama allows the teacher to reinforce the correct belief that the impossibility of directly making up for deficiencies with AI is an advantage and a challenge to be solved by, if necessary, improving their existing skills or acquiring completely new ones that, even though they are disruptive to their initial thinking, facilitate their work as a university teaching professional.

The example of reading comprehension

Resolving imperfections in skills and competencies leads to a correct evolution of the students’ learning curve. Achieving this is not complicated if there is proper ongoing training and a high percentage of commitment as a teacher. We can see this, again, in the example of reading comprehension.

The challenge of breaking the trend of non-use by the majority of current students can mean an opportunity to engage the interest of the students we have in each subject. Teachers, for example, can break this lack by teaching students to learn to develop analysis using human skills based on it and, from there, to subsequently generate effective prompts or commands that give visible results from the use of artificial intelligence tools.

To achieve this, we can cover everything from literary texts to scientific instructions or simulations of real projects, thus highlighting the uniqueness of the training process. What a vast field lies ahead!

Constant updating but preservation of the human

University education, like science and everyday life, is nourished by the human essence, establishing a balance between technology, research and learning focused on each generation and role, from the constant updating inherent to the professionalism of the teacher.

To achieve this, we have seen that we must not rule out the use of artificial intelligence as just another tool, always using it like the others with caution and judgment, constantly assessing its capacity to enrich the educational experience while preserving the human aspects that define a comprehensive education that thinks with the neurons of a person trained by updating to improve the quality of life for all.

Author Bio: Antonio Fernandez-Coca is a Senior Lecturer. PhD. Director of Training for Teaching and Research Staff (PDI) at the University of the Balearic Island